Monday, January 25, 2010

Tipping the Balance

Things like this come up every so-often in the media. Check out this item highlighted by Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:'s example is a story in the Times about Obama's plans for his State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Wednesday. Describing the administration's new economic recovery proposals, the reporter writes:

Such programs are, notably, much less far-reaching than Mr. Obama’s expansive first-year agenda of passing an economic recovery package, bailing out the auto industry, overhauling the health care system, passing energy legislation and imposing tough new restrictions on banks. That agenda has left him vulnerable to criticism that he is using the government to remake every aspect of American society.

I added the emphasis there, but that sentence sticks out anyway. It's hilariously broad—"every" aspect of American society? It's totally unattached to any sourcing or evidence. Who are these critics? Do they have names? If "Republicans" or "Tea Party activists" are claiming that Obama is using government to remake American society, readers should know that. Just saying that Obama is "vulnerable to criticism" without saying where that criticism is coming from gives the claim a credibility it doesn't deserve. Does America society seem "remade" to you?

I think a lot of people expel lots of energy on media bias that doesn't really get us anywhere. This includes the incessant screaming that we hear from the right about the so-called "mainstream" media having a liberal bias.

I am with Bill Moyers on this when he observes that it is more productive to think of the media not as having a general "liberal" or "conservative" bias, but as stenographers to power. The bottom line, the almighty dollar, is what drives much of what gets on the air which is how you have rodeo clowns like Glenn Beck whipping up a populist fervor when just five years ago the same news station was aligned with those in power.

I interviewed the Director of the Journalism at Miami University in Oxford Ohio for a recent piece that I posted a while back and I think he is right to observe that there is a bias in all coverage. This must be acknowledged from the beginning. In critiquing those in the media it is important to ask if they made every effort to be fair and complete in their coverage as well as present all sides of the story. Not just two-sides (as there are rarely just two-sides to a story), but all sides.

Like it is illustrated in the Mother Jones post, the effort in trying to appear non-partisan can often result in confusing the matter and complicating the road toward actual truth. Merely telling us what the left said and what the right said is not balance if both sides are merely spouting lies.

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